Guest Column: AEP LEAP Grants: A Driving Force Behind Workforce Development

Posted on Thursday, October 19, 2017 by Tim Wells

One of the top factors cited by location decision-makers is the need for a strong workforce. In today’s competitive environment, employers and economic developers alike are working to meet the workforce challenge. With increasing shortages in skilled trades, communities need to get creative when it comes to addressing these needs and developing a plan to address short-term needs as well as the workforce of tomorrow.

How are Ohio communities addressing the need for skilled labor? With help from AEP Ohio’s Local Economic Assistance Program (LEAP) program, local and regional economic development organizations are working with local employers, as well as workforce and education service providers, to complete the workforce puzzle. Many of our LEAP grant recipients are on the leading edge of workforce development trends in Ohio.


Local Online Resources

To combat impending Baby Boomer retirements, accommodate Millennials and fill growing gaps in qualified candidates, communities are creating local online resources to fill jobs.

Wyandot and Crawford Counties are jointly developing an online job preparedness resource for high school students. These students create a profile and track their job interests and educational training. Upon graduation, the student profile will convert into an online resume that is updated as they achieve further training and skill development.

Local companies also have profiles on the website where they provide company information, including job openings. Companies located within Crawford and Wyandot Counties can also search the local profiles of graduates from local school systems.

The Fostoria Economic Development Council has created Jobs Fostoria, a local jobs campaign focused on employee recruitment and workforce development. The campaign includes a website and mobile app listing available local jobs.


Workforce Awareness Programs

After years of encouraging students to attend college, the recent trend has been to steer young people toward careers in skilled trades, such as industrial maintenance, welding, electrical and tool and die. These skills are not only in demand but may offer compensation packages that compete with jobs available for college graduates.

Crawford County has pioneered the Workforce Awareness for Graduates and Educators (W.A.G.E) program, a multi-phase effort driven by local employers.  W.A.G.E. is designed to increase students’ awareness of local employment opportunities with a focus on manufacturing as well as financial, healthcare, agriculture and entrepreneurship. This workforce awareness program includes experiential opportunities such as manufacturing tours, career fairs, internships, mentorships and apprenticeships.


Huron County’s Career Opportunity Partnership also includes a manufacturing showcase event for ninth grade students.  Local manufacturers and businesses engage students through interactive stations and hands-on experiences. The partnership’s goal is to educate students about viable career paths, in addition to college.


Engaged Employers Key to Success

It is critical that local employers be engaged in developing workforce solutions. Unfortunately, the one-size-fits-all approach often does not fulfill the needs of local employers. Instead, a move toward more customer-driven, tailored solutions is the approach suggested by manufacturers engaged in the Coshocton, Knox and Licking Counties Manufacturing Sector Partnership. AEP Ohio provided seed funding to launch this new employer-led partnership.

The Partnership, including companies like Owens Corning, Velvet Ice Cream and Tech International, discussed workforce needs in a facilitated discussion. The group then set priorities and took responsibility for accomplishing those priorities with the support of economic development, education and workforce development resources from the partner counties.

Among the many ideas generated, the group discussed the need to begin increasing awareness of careers in manufacturing at a much earlier grade level than junior or senior year. This theme is prevalent throughout workforce development efforts supported by AEP Ohio.

Constructive responses to today’s workforce environment are a challenge being taken head-on by many Ohio communities. Partnerships are one key to success. Engaging local employers is another critical success factor. AEP Ohio is working to assist the customers and communities we serve with programs to raise their competitiveness in an increasingly global economy. The AEP Ohio LEAP program is one example of our commitment to economic growth and development in our state and the communities in which we live and work.

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